Tank gunnery can take the tanker to the most out-of-the-way places, since the nature of shooting tanks necessitates removal from most civilization. A major exception to this is a primary tank range at Grafenwoehr in Germany, which is set within 1 kilometer of a neighboring town! To the left, a line of tanks (in the background) prepare for gunnery at Indian Springs, NV.
Types of targets used in tank gunnery:
Target types vary, but most are plywood panels, mounted on "pop up" devices with a smoke discharger. When the target "engages" an M-60 conducting gunnery, it pops up, with a small flash and plumb of smoke (to simulate the main gun firing). At this point, the crew is timed to determine their skill in taking out the targets. Once hit, they fall down, indicating a "target." Other targets (especially for such gunnery exercises as Tables VI and VII) are wooden panels placed in a stationary mount. Some wooden panels are shaped in the fashion of tank silhouettes and mounted on small rail carts and moved around as a way to simulate moving targets.
Finally, some targets are "hard" types, such as old tanks and armored personal carriers. Everything from old WW II Shermans and more recent M-47s have been used as targets. There were even a few old German WW II tanks hanging around the Graf ranges, although so blasted as to be almost unrecognizable.
A note about the two photos to the right: Both of these photos were taken through the M105 gunners telescope, and the graduated reticle can be seen, more clearly in the top than in the lower shot. The top photo is of an M-47 on a range in Grafenwoehr. The lower photo shows a main gun tracer round "splashing" behind a fixed wooden target. The tracer itself is the small red dot in the center. The photo is blurry due to the concussion of the main gun of the tank next to the one in which this photo was taken.
Engaging hard targets is clearly the most enjoyable for tank gunners, mostly because the impact of the round on the target causes a red flash. When a round hits a wooden target panel, it simply goes through it and there is little indication whether or not the crew actually hit the target.
When proceeding with the engagement, the commander yells out the command sequence to the crew......
TC: Gunner, battlesight, tank ("battlesight" was a rangefinder setting which allowed rapid engagement of targets. At this point the TC is laying the gun in the vicinity of the target).
Loader: Up (signifying the round is in the chamber).
Gunner: Identified (as he spots the target in his sights. He then sets the sight reticle on the target).
Gunner: On the way! (he squeezes the trigger on the Cadilac magnetic controls and the gun discharges, recoiling back into the turret and opening the breech, sending the spent casing hurtling against the back of the turret ring. The loader kicks the casing to the floor to prevent it from bouncing around, and loads the next round).
TC: Target! (if the enemy target is hit.... if not, he may shout "lost" or "short-line" or "over-line." The last two are based on the round being on line, but just over or short).
A note about the three photos to the left: These three shots were taken through the commander's rangefinder as a neighbor tank engaged hard targets at Indian Springs, NV. The center shot shows the moment a round impacts the turret. The lower photo is of a different set (two vehicles side by side) and shows the aftermath once the round slammed into the turret.
FIRE! An M-60a1 engages a target during Table VII gunnery at Grafenwoehr, Germany. The light brown color at the lower part of the photo is standing water and mud... a common problem in Germany, regardless of the training area. The blast from the main gun is clearly apparent, one of the problems of tanks being the pronounced "signature" they leave when engaging targets.
Successfully engaging targets with the machine guns is another primary task of gunnery. The M-60 series tanks has two machine guns, the M-85 .50 cal in the TC's cupola, and the 7.62mm coax fired by the gunner. Care must be taken when firing machine guns. Crew members must be attentive to this fact, since once fired the machine gun barrels are intensely hot, and grasping the barrels can cause serious burns. Furthermore, the crew must insure that the M-85 turret bracket is raised before firing, since this bracket prevents the commander from lowering and rotating the MG in the wrong direction. In the photo on the left, the bracket has not been raised, and a few seconds after this shot was taken, the commander accidently lowered the mg and shot holes through his own searchlight! The book to the left-foreground is none other than FM 17-12... "Tank Gunnery." Also, notice the overshoes upside down on the infantry rail... it was strictly forbidden to climb into a tank with muddy boots!
Night gunnery can be simply a lot of fun. Unfortunately, this enjoyment is lost in long hours of sitting on the tank waiting for one's turn to fire. Crews become adept at sleeping (dozing is the better word, since actually sleeping in one's crew position isn't easy) in various contorted positions. Once on the range, crews engage various targets in simulated conditions. Prior to the use of passive imagers (such as starlight and thermal sights), tank crews used infrared (IR) or white light to illuminate targets. Once passive starlight imagers were available targets were usually engaged without resort to white light. Such imagers take the ambient light outside and amplify it to give the gunner and commander a greenish picture of the area ahead. However, mortars would sometimes drop "illume" rounds over the target area, especially if there was poor lighting from overcast skies. In the upper photo, the night time "signature" of a tank is obvious.
Firing the machine guns at night could provide a spectacular display of fireworks, as the tracers ricochete and arc into the sky. In this photo, both the M-85 .50 cal (the upper set) and the M-240 7.62mm coax (lower set) engage separate targets. Note the white light to the left.